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Posted by on December 22, 2013

Our dog Maggie died over Christmas break this year. She was almost 13 years old and had developed an enormous tumor in her abdomen. The tumor would probably have been inoperable regardless of her age, but her quality of life had also been declining for several months. It was time.

Pets can be a big part of a boy’s life. We understood this early on, but it took us a while to get past the practicalities of the whole thing. No matter how hard you try to convince yourself that a pet will be low maintenance, they rarely are. Especially when you have young kids in the house.

Karen and I acquired our first pets before Gerrit was born. After an attempt at adopting a kitten from the German ASPCA ended in tragedy (the kitten died within days), our sympathetic German landlords found out about a litter of kittens that had been born in a barn just up the road from our house. We decided to go take a look.

This was our first mistake.

Decades later, and somewhat wiser, we are now aware of the Universal Law of Attraction that renders any person viewing a puppy or kitten completely unable to resist taking one home. The inevitability of this law ranks right up there with the Law of Gravity. In fact, now that I think about it the two laws may actually be related. As with gravity, the attraction grows stronger the closer you are to the object. If you get close enough to actually HOLD the little thing, it’s virtually impossible to let go. It’s not your fault; it’s just physics.

So, we went to look at the little barn kittens, but by the time we got there only two were left. The owners insisted that they had to go together. That seemed like a lot to take on, but one look into Karen’s eyes told me that the decision was already made. Tigger and Piglet became a part of our family.

(NOTE: Through the years we sometimes found it useful to point out to our boys that Tigger and Piggy were part of the family long before they were. We didn’t mean to imply anything, but we thought they should be aware that if it came down to a choice…well. Enough said.) :-)

Cats can be great pets, and as cats go ours were very friendly. They tolerated a lot from the boys as toddlers, but when they needed some space they just hid under the bed. It was a pretty good arrangement. As the boys grew, they took on bigger roles in caring for the cats. They fed them and brushed them and cleaned the litter box. Their demonstrations of responsibility eventually led to the addition of other pets. We had turtles, and fish, and even snakes for a while.

Our snake experience was a mixed one.

Snakes require very careful attention. Their environment must be kept at a fairly narrow temperature band, which requires heat lamps and thermometers and the like. Once when Tucker was away, Karen took on the responsibility of managing the temperature in the snake habitat. For some reason things didn’t go well. Let’s just say that snakes exposed to too much heat for a long period do not die pretty. The funeral for that one was a memorable event. We buried him in a planter on the back deck. A few years later Tucker decided to exhume the body to see what it looked like. You gotta love boys. :-)

I’m not sure if it was related, but one of Tucker’s other snakes disappeared around that same time. He had already demonstrated an aptitude for escape, but until then we were always able to find him. It’s been about ten years since he escaped the last time. We never did find him. It’s possible there will one day be a cut-rate horror movie about our family and the return of that snake to avenge his buddy’s death. Look for it in a theater near you.

All of this kept the boys occupied for years. We had promised them that when we got a house with a back yard we would consider getting a dog, but we’d been able to keep them distracted with other things up to that point. Then came the day of the end-of-year party for our home school group. One family brought a litter of half-lab, half Australian Shepherd pups to the party.

Oh, they knew exactly what they were doing. But then so did we! We were wise to their tricks. We knew about the Universal Law of Attraction! Ha! You can’t sucker US into…

…oh my goodness, isn’t that one adorable!

Magnolia May joined our family when the boys were about 4, 8, and 11. She became an indelible part of our lives for the next 13 years.

There’s just something special about boys and dogs.

She came with us to countless Little League games, sitting peacefully under our chairs and enduring the attentions of every kid that walked by. She patiently allowed Philip to tackle her when they played football together in the living room. She mischievously ignored Tucker’s earnest attempts to train her, and never became the Frisbee dog that Gerrit so hoped that her Australian Shepherd roots implied.

She annoyingly barked at the door bell every time it rang, but only alerted to UPS trucks that drove by. No other truck seemed to bother her. She insisted upon first right of approval for anyone entering the house, but after a few sniffs she inevitably accepted everyone. Except that one exterminator. There was something about that guy that she really didn’t like. Dogs sometimes have a sense about these things, so Karen called the company and got a different guy. Maggie loved him.

She camped with us and hiked with us. She even geocached with us. She slept on the floor next to Karen’s side of the bed so she could keep watch through the night (no doubt watching for that missing snake!), and accompanied me every morning when I went out to get the paper. I didn’t bother trying to get her to actually retrieve the paper since she was always much too busy checking the “pee-mail” at the boundaries of our property. Maggie liked to stay informed.

For the last three years she’s been training her replacement. I was skeptical about that idea when we first brought young Annabelle home, but three years later the results are hard to ignore. Maggie was an excellent mentor.

It was fitting that Maggie’s end came during Christmas break, when the whole family was in town. The tears around the room at the vet that day illustrated how much she meant to each of us. She wasn’t perfect, but she was a pretty good reflection of our family, warts and all.

We’re going to miss her.

originally published 1/12/12| next post The Talk

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